Thursday, October 02, 2008

A familiar naming

My father’s proper Gikuyu name is Muigai, but people know him as Job Wainaina. Wainaina is not my father’s name. It is my grandfather’s. But the confusion of the British naming system inserted itself into the way we register our names, and left many strange parallel ways of announcing yourself. You had to have a surname. So, my grandfather’s name became our family surname. In a culturally decentralized society such as that of the Gikuyu, names are used to plot you, quite exactly, on a map. You can ask a stranger three questions, and know where he or she comes from, which clan they belong to.

You had to have a surname. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

(There's a lot more to be said about naming, but it's all obvious so I won't.)

Oh - that was Binyavanga Wainaina in Granta 103.


km said...

*bloody* familiar.

Banno said...

Oh yeah. Dhanno, Teja and I have some strange issues with surnames, as you can well imagine. All of it unnecessarily complicated, and unnecessarily painful.